A New “Blended Learning” Approach for Conservation in South Africa

How do we engage our children in South African conservation? Do you think it’s important?

And what about rural schoolchildren? Many would argue that in a country already struggling with basic literacy, the focus should be English and math’s literacy. Certainly NOT conservation, “a nice to have” you might call it.

We are doing both. And we believe that after the basics, for South Africa and the planet, conservation literacy is critical. Critical now. Critical today.

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School-children in the Open Learning Academy learning interactively about large mammals.

Our primary goal for school-aged learners – as a rural centre of education in South Africa – is to support a dramatic improvement in English, math’s, and digital literacy.

However, with a large portion of our “blended learning” taking place on digital devices, there is an obvious opportunity for students to learn about our natural world at the same time as improving their English and digital literacy.

We say “obvious” for a number of reasons: (1) We are based in Mpumalanga, adjacent to one of the world’s largest natural conservation areas; (2) Tourism is one of Mpumalanga’s biggest economies, and is growing; and (3) There is an opportunity to incorporate more people living adjacent to wildlife areas into the economy of wildlife, or at least, to provide them with realistic access to this profession.

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Learners reading a children’s book about wildlife protection.

As an example of blended learning in a high-paced, fun, and interactive learning space, we regularly create days focused on conservation literacy in our Open Learning area at Hazyview Digital Learning Centre.

At a recent conservation literacy day, children from a local primary school rotated through the following stations:

  1. Reading and comprehension using conservation books for children
  2. Wildlife puzzles
  3. Conservation videos on the big screen (“Bush School” for kids)
  4. Interactive eBooks
  5. Wildlife protection lectures on the digital whiteboard
  6. Flight simulator lessons, as a precursor to drone flying

This programme is designed for Grade 4 learners. And it’s not perfect. But what we are getting right is “creating a space of wonder, and a space of curiosity.”

As these children grow into teenagers and young adults, we want them to know what a landfill is. We want them to know about carbon emissions, water systems, rhino poaching and recycling.

More than anything, we want for them to have an appreciation and love of our beautiful country and its natural heritage.

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English facilitator, Njabulo Mashele, giving a lecture on rhino poaching using a digital white board.

 

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